Review by Adam Asunder.
Do you remember Darksiders? Or more accurately do you care about Darksiders? Those are the questions this re-release seems to want to pose to the current video game consumer.
The series was a reasonable success on the last generation of consoles but the overarching narrative based loosely around the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ended up standing on a precipice after two games as the original publisher went under, scattering their properties to the wind. War and Death got their moments to shine but what of Strife and Pestilence?
Nordic Games now own the IP and have put Gunfire Games to the task of remastering to remind people that the series is still a thing, presumably with the intention to continue the adventures of the equestrian quartet. Gunfire Games themselves consist of former Vigil Games developers so it's good to see that some have been able to continue on their vision.
The original Darksiders 2 was a continuation from the original Darksiders which was an action adventure game that drew heavily from the Zelda template. It had an excellent, chunky visual design driven by notable comic book artist Joe 'Mad' and garnered many fans who had been up to then starved of a similar type of experience. You played as War, the horseman that had been tricked into bringing about the end of the world. He had to not only prove his innocence but find who was responsible and go about fixing the premature apocalypse.
It was a tad too linear but it set its stall up with some style and in turn setting up what looked like a promising franchise. The sequel centring around Death, another of the Horsemen addressed some of the complaints of linearity and narrowness by feeling more open even if the path through the game was still a straight line. At its heart it still felt like a Zelda adventure but they had folded in a bit of Diablo style looting and Prince of Persia platforming to give Death his own style of gameplay.
Death himself is wonderfully snarky and sure of himself, always quick with a put down or witty retort. He's also a fun avatar to manipulate, flitting between combat, traversal and swimming with aplom. He always feels engaging.
If anything this iteration felt a lot like the classic Soul Reaver series so its no wonder that the game found its audience. I for one enjoyed it very much upon its original release. For all the games on the Xbox 360 at the time there was still a notable dea(r)th of that kind of experience and although it was highly derivative it stole its elements well. The platforming was soothing, the combat was crunchy and the looting did what looting does. It reaches right into your psyche, stroking that imperceivable itch to get. more. shiny.
Coming to Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition years later I realised still just how few games of this ilk are about. Sure there's loads of hack and slashers -albeit re-releases themselves so far - but not many out and out adventure games so I was really looking forward to delving back into the cold embrace of Death.
The first two things that hit you are the graphics and the art work. This has been presented in full 1080p now and they have improved the rendering and the lighting to bring the presentation more in line with contempory titles. You won't be fooled into thinking that this is a current gen game but with its enhancements this is a very handsome release. The extra oompth has really allowed the art to sing and sing it does. The visuals in this game are fabulous. It's vibrant, colourful and full of character. One thing I hadn't remembered from my first playthrough is the wonderful music. There's a wistful gaelic melancholy that permeates the score and although it would normally feel a bit out of place in a game centred around Death it accompanies the world that he inhabits really well. He is himself a stranger in a strange land, a world itself on the edge of extinction, slowly being brought back to life.
Unfortunately apart from the inclusion of all the DLC that's about it for remastering. There has been no attempt to push the refresh up to 60fps which other past gen games have achieved without issue. It's strictly 30fps territory which is actually completely fine for this type of game. Sure there are hack and slash elements but it doesn't ever require the responsiveness of a DMC, it handles well enough as is. That's when it manages to attain a solid frame rate. This game seriously chugs. It chugs in busy areas, it chugs in quiet areas and it really impacts your enjoyment of the game. It's a shame that after the work that's obviously gone into the presentation a similar amount of effort hasn't gone into the optimisation. It's really bad and unacceptable for a game that's so old when there are so many examples of re-releases being handled better. Not only that but the audio is also buggy, there is a distinct static sound over menu screens and sometimes during gameplay.
Both these issues seriously hobble the release and fly in the face of this being a remaster; a definitive edition. Technical issues can normally be forgiven in a game but unfortunately for Death and Darksiders 2 it's the technicalites that most people will be assessing when choosing to jump in to an updated release. Currently it's pretty hard to recommend what is a great example of the genre in this current state no matter how pretty the game is. If they had bundled together both games and made this a value package then goodwill would have been on their side. Something that this game will unlikely be to attain on its own.
I'm torn. I really want to see Darksiders persist as an IP and this selling well is probably a sizeable factor in the relevance of the series going forwards but this game needs a bit more TLC to be able to recommend. Hopefully they'll see fit to patch the game but for now it's a narrow miss. Xbox One owners would probably be better off waiting to see if the backwards compatibility will support the original release. PS4 owners may be better off with the subscription streaming service.